Pen and paper RPG on a computer

So I haven't played D&D for a long time. I wasn't a very active player during a game but I enjoyed sitting around a table with my friends, talking crap, eating Taco Bell, building columns out of dice, you know the usual. It was a hobby with that social aspect teenagers need. I would like to get back into it one day. One thing that was great about the game was the tailored made experience.

There are a lot of online RPGs out there with very rich environments. World Of Warcraft, Everquest, and Guild Wars comes to mind. You are kind of set in what you can do, however. You don't ever have a campaign that is tailored just for you. You're pretty much watching the same movie as everyone else. Which isn't a bad thing. When you just finished the latest Harry Potter book, it's good to talk with your fellow "Potterites" about what happened to Dumbledore.

In a table top game of D&D, your Dungeon Master is your host and pretty much controls everything you see. The DM may run a published module, but it's going to be different from DM to DM. It's custom made to the group you're in. Where a CRPG might be able to have a troll be animated to drool, roar and regrow limbs, it's limited to a scripted event. A DM injects a lot more into a troll. Just having a listen to the episodes of the D&D Podcast with the guys from Penny Arcade, PvP Online, and Wil Wheaton really demonstrates that.

I was thinking about how to transfer the table top experience to the computer. What kind of features would I like to see in such a tool?

A D&D tool feature set might include:
* real-time encounter management based on a rule set but can be overruled by the game master
* voice and cam support for all players and game master
* a tool set to easily create and share encounters and full campaigns
* the table top can be basic or enhanced (eye candy only)
* tool can used via internet or local LAN

Before I started this, I didn't think there were any comparable tools out there yet. A common name that these tools are known by is virtual table. There are several virtual table tools I found for the PC that are available or will be. One is being made by Wizards of the Coast, the D&D Insider tool set. It's only seems natural that WotC would make a tool like this. At this time, the tool with the features I listed above doesn't seem to be available. There are demo videos showing off some features.

Another tool I found was Fantasy Grounds. There is a demo available to whet your teeth on. The UI is pretty slick! A set of dice is available to roll at the bottom. There's certainly a feel of a table there.

Yet another tool discovered during the course of writing this is iTabletop. iTabletop incorporated the use of web cams and audio to interact with the players. A demo is also available showing off some of it's move. You must create an account as the data is actually hosted on their "servers" (Amazon cloud).

While these tools should certainly help out simulate an in-person role playing experience, not one did everything I was looking for. A set of the features from the three tools would be ideal. Start with Fantasy Grounds as the base then add in the easy encounter creation from D&D Insider and top it off with the audio/video communication from iTabletop and we'd have a winner!

Unfortunately, none of the tools are open source. Looks like Fantasy Grounds has some scripting ability but I'm not sure what it can do at the moment. Here's a situation where I may have to roll my own. I have kind of thought about how to go about it and it would be certainly a big thing. Perhaps I'll be able to finish such a thing.

Though all of this would be for naught without others to play with. A rock is just a rock until there are windows around to break. That can be a topic for another day.

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